Twice-impeached one-term former president Donald Trump suffered yet another courtroom defeat yesterday when a New York State judge dismissed his defamation lawsuit against the New York Times. The hyper-litigious Trump had sued the company that owns the Times over an opinion essay written by the paper’s former executive editor that argued there had been a “quid pro quo” between candidate Trump and the Russian government before the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s re-election campaign, Donald J. Trump for President Inc., filed the suit in New York State Supreme Court in February 2020, alleging defamation and accusing The Times of “extreme bias against and animosity toward” the campaign after Max Frankel wrote in an op-ed “the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy … had an overarching deal.”
In his decision on Tuesday, Judge James E. d’Auguste noted three reasons for dismissal. He said that Frankel’s commentary was “non-actionable opinion,” meaning it was constitutionally protected speech; that the Trump campaign did not have standing to sue for defamation; and that the campaign had failed to show that The Times had published the essay with “actual malice.”
Trump also has sued the Washington Post and CNN for defamation. The CNN suit was thrown out last November; the Post suit is pending.
Lawsuits by public figures have to clear the very high hurdle of proving that a writer published something “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” Trump has a long, unsuccessful track record when it comes to suing the media. One of his biggest failures is when he sued journalist Tim O’Brien for disputing the value Trump put on his net worth. The developer was caught lying 30 times during a deposition in that matter and the lawsuit was dismissed.
“The court made clear today a fundamental point about press freedom: We should not tolerate libel suits that are brought by people in power intending to silence and intimidate those who scrutinize them,” David McCraw, The Times’s deputy general counsel, said in a statement.